A Ballade of Philomela

Charles G.D. Roberts

From gab of jay and chatter of crake
The dusk wood covered me utterly.
And here the tongue of the thrush was awake.
Flame-floods out of the low bright sky
Lighted the gloom with gold-brown dye,
Before dark; and a manifold chorussing
Arose of thrushes remote and nigh,—
For the tongue of the singer needs must sing.

Midmost a close green covert of brake
A brown bird listening silently
Sat; and I thought—"She grieves for the sake
Of Itylus,—for the stains that lie
In her heritage of sad memory."
But the thrushes were hushed at evening.
Then I waited to hear the brown bird try,—
For the tongue of the singer needs must sing.

And I said—"The thought of the thrushes Will shake
With rapture remembered her heart; and her shy
Tongue of the dear times dead will take
To make her a living song, when sigh
The soft night winds disburthened by.
Hark now!"—for the upraised quivering wing,
The throat exultant, I could descry,—
And the tongue of the singer needs must sing!


But the bird dropped dead with only a cry.
I found its tongue was withered, poor thing!
Then I no whit wondered, for well knew I
That the heart of the singer will break or sing.

From In Divers Tones.

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Added 23 November 2008.
Updated 23 November 2008.